Obituary: Dr. Sandy Welner, Disabled Women's Health Advocate
By Judi Rogers,OTR
Dr. Sandy Welner's death is a great loss to women with disabilities. An
obstetrician-gynecologist, she died at age 42 of complications from an
injury. She researched disabled women's health. She had been assistant
professor in the obstetrics and gynecology departments of both Georgetown
University and University of Maryland medical schools since the late 1990s.
She was a graduate of Lehigh University and the Medical College of
Pennsylvania. She became an infertility specialist and director of a
women's health care clinic in Atlanta. Sandy also did a specialty in
But after becoming disabled, she changed her focus and became the leading
expert on disabled women's health. It is rare to find a medical professional
with both the personal and professional knowledge of disability. It is even
rarer for that professional to re-focus their entire medical career on
providing information to fill the enormous gap on disabled women and health.
But that is what Sandy did.
In 1991 the National Institutes of Health held a conference on reproduction
issues for people with physical disabilities. Sandy spoke for the first time
about her disability. She spoke of her parents and how they would never
allow her or anyone working with her to give up hope of her returning to
continue her medical career. She in turn never gave up her drive to serve
Sandy has worked relentlessly on disabled women's health. Dr. Welner was one
of few medical professionals bringing up issues of reproductive health care
for disabled women and writing on this subject. One of Sandy's most
important contributions is an universally designed exam table - also called
the "Welner Table". This table can be lowered for easy transfers, and can
also be placed in different positions so disabled women can be comfortable
during a gynecological exam. Only Sandy could create an exam table that was
accessible for both a disabled patient and practitioners. This table is
being used nationwide.
Sandy was aware of the inaccessibility that disabled women face with
mammogram screening. She helped Berkeley's BHAWD (Breast Health Access for
Women with Disabilities) develop educational tools, as well as other
resources for women with disabilities. Additionally Sandy had participated
in the policy committee of the American Cancer Society. She also was
producing a video on providing disabled women with different options for
manual breast exams.
One of Sandy's gifts was the ability to educate both medical professionals
and consumers. She was a respected practicing physician who lectured in many
different environments - from medical conferences to clinic settings.
Moreover she lectured and consulted both nationally and internationally.
She was also instrumental in establishing a health clinic for disabled women
at Magee-Women's Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, her hometown.
Her reach with consumers was equally diverse. She believed in patient
education and made numerous presentations to consumer groups. Knowing of the
very limited availability of health information on disabled women, Sandy
would accept phone calls from complete strangers who asked her advice. She
never said no.
Sandy has consistently worked for disabled women's health issues. At the
time of her death, Sandy was editing a medical textbook on disabled women's
health - the first of its kind. Her hope was that this book could be used as
part of the curriculum for both medical school and other allied health care
Since 1991 Sandy has consistently worked to improve disabled women's health
care. Sandy's work forever changed the face of disabled women's health. The
sadness of her early death is overwhelming. She did so much and and her work here was not yet finished.